Catfish, stripers and deer

December’s cooling water temperature enhances fishing activity on the Santee Copper lakes. But it also causes successful patterns to change.

Big catfish are on the prowl, and striper fishing is still excellent. The overall activity of topwater action now blends with improved live bait fishing. And more of the bigger stripers now appear in the creels of anglers.

Deep and Shallow

While most anglers think of deep-water for catfish in December, that’s not always the case. When conditions are right, some outstanding shallow-water action occurs on both lakes.

The typical pattern for most anglers is to drift fish using the Santee Drift Rig loaded with gizzard shad, blueback herring, or white perch fished cut or whole. The ‘Double-Cheeseburger,’ a two shad or herring presentation on a single rig, is a local December drift-fishing specialty for big catfish.

Catfishermen typically drift in the 0.5 to 0.7 miles-per-hour range and work a variety of depths from shallow water humps all the way to over 50 feet deep.

One common tactic is to find an area with ample forage and drift a stretch of water that falls from 15 feet down to the deepest water in that area. It’s not unusual to find a specific depth range of only a few feet on a given day where most of the catfish will congregate. When you find a solid depth pattern, work it diligently.

Another tactic is to anchor shallow, and fan cast baits in water all around the boat, with skinny water included.

Most anchor fishermen focus on small cuts or ditches, as well as humps or ledges, near deeper water, targeting depths from 3 to 12 feet.

The shallow bite may be a low-light opportunity this month, but it can produce anytime, especially on overcast days.

This is big catfish time, so be patient when you find an area with plenty of forage and big-fish marks on the graph. They may not feed all day long, but when they do feed, it can be outstanding.

Big stripers on the menu

December is an excellent month for striper success. And depending on seasonal weather, topwater schooling action is usually still occurring. Also, the striper bite is becoming more predictable when using live bait as the water temperature continues to cool.

Drifting rigs like this one come in handy at Santee in December.

As is usually the case, the forage is the key. And with cooler water temperatures, the shad begin to congregate in larger pods in confined areas, and usually in deeper water. The stripers are still feeding aggressively.

But the typical scenario for December is the average size of the stripers generally improves, although overall numbers may slow a little (but not always). And more of the 26-inch-plus stripers show up consistently in the catch.

Both lakes are very productive in December, with the location of forage being the key to where stripers are found.

Seagulls are a great shad-location indicator, but for the deeper pods of shad, spend a little time graphing the lake along the ledges and humps near deeper water. You’re likely to locate pods of bait with stripers around them. And usually, catfish linger under the forage. So dropping a bait to the bottom can get your string stretched.

Hunting around Santee Cooper

December deer hunting patterns change dramatically from the rut phase to late-season. Deer movements dwindle, and patience and perseverance are keys. Many hunters around the Santee Cooper area have learned that late-season food plots with plenty of ‘green’ forage are a deer magnet.

Many outdoorsmen switch gears and forgo December deer hunting to take advantage of excellent small game hunting opportunities in our area. Others return to fishing and hang up the deer gear for the season. Both are excellent choices for our area.

Waterfowl hunting is popular during December, especially in the upper Santee Swamp. The seasons, shooting hours, limits and other special restrictions on migratory bird hunting are set in accordance with guidelines from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

December offers prime waterfowl hunting opportunities that continue into January 2024. Specific season and harvest regulations can vary annually so check the Rules & Regulations for waterfowl hunting.

Watch the birds:

Lots of stripers are caught deep this month, but for anglers wanting some topwater action, they’ll find their share if they keep an eye on the skies for seagulls diving on baitfish pushed to the surface by these fish.

About Terry Madewell 802 Articles
Award-winning writer and photographer Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., has been an outdoors writer for more than 30 years. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager.

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